Not Your Parents’ Gym Class
By Annette McLoughlin
If you walk into a 9th grade Physical Education class at Rye High School this year, the children are as likely to be engaged in weight training and Pilates, as a rousing game of kick ball. The Health and Physical Education Department has begun to evolve from a strictly traditional PE format. Their mission is “to provide all students with the base principles for overall wellness.” explain the two teachers responsible for writing the new curriculum, Jean Romano and Al Mercardo.
In re-writing the PE curriculum last year, the teachers tasked themselves with broadening the course to include healthy lifestyle practices and appealing to the range of students within the span of high school ages and interests. Romano and Mercardo saw participation rates in traditional PE classes waning as students grew older and they wanted to begin to reverse the trend by keeping the upper classmen engaged throughout their four years. They explained their grass-roots methodology: “The data we collected was word-of-mouth but mostly from the “out of district” opt out program, whereby 11th and 12th grade students can apply to opt out of PE if they engage in an ongoing activity out of school. We thought, ‘Hey, if we offer the things that the students are taking out of school then maybe they’ll be less likely to opt out of PE.’”
Specifically, the objective of the new PE course is to “explore the essential components of wellness and practices that lead to healthy lifestyles. It’s designed to help the students connect their mind and body.” They wanted to arm them with concepts and practices that they can take with them beyond high school. “This curriculum really focuses on lifetime fitness and how to educate the whole student.”
The new program consists of three units: Fitness, Yoga and Pilates, and Nutrition and Anatomy. In the first, students are taught proper mechanics in building muscle and practicing heart-healthy cardio. The second fosters good practices in maintaining flexibility and strength with a focus on the core. Additionally, yoga’s sustained poses and measured breathing, offers an important mental and emotional benefit and a thoughtful, screen-free respite for the busy mind.
The third unit helps teens understand the connection between nutrition and health and teaches them the life-long benefits of maintaining a good and balanced nutritional routine.
Initially, this new program will comprise half of freshman year, sharing the other half with the scheduled circuit of traditional sports and backyard games. It will roll out with every new class moving forward. Eventually, Romano and Mercardo hope to have an electives-based PE and Health curriculum that offers students a choice of games-based and lifestyle fitness courses and consequently, something for everyone.